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Maritime Order in the Indian Ocean

Deakin coalition examines threats to law and order on the Indian Ocean.

Outdated governance is putting the Indian Ocean at risk of anarchy, piracy, and the pilfering of international resources, according to maritime law experts who plan to draft a new code of conduct for the region at a Deakin forum next week.

Deakin Law School’s Centre on the Legal Profession (CoLP) will bring together a legion of maritime, international and resource law scholars, regional stakeholders, and foreign dignitaries to delve into issues facing the Indian Ocean – a vast 70.6 million sq km expanse servicing 25 littoral economies.

The conference was inspired by the 2017 Deakin Law Oration delivered by Sri Lankan Prime Minister the Honourable Dr Ranil Wickremesinghe, who used the opportunity to call for renewed regional attention to ensure free and safe navigation on the Indian Ocean.

CoLP Executive Director Athula Pathinayake said the ocean region was undergoing a boom period thanks to increased investment in port infrastructure, bigger shipping size and efficiency, the removal of trade barriers, and the expansion of the middle class.

“All of this activity is placing unforeseen stresses on the Indian Ocean, which is still governed by the 1982 UN Law of the Sea treaty, and lacks the scope to deal with practical impediments and threats to safety falling outside of that decades-old framework,” Mr Pathinayake said.

“This conference, the first of three we will be holding in Australia and Sri Lanka on the topic, aims to identify areas in which Indian Ocean states can adopt practical cooperation measures to address issues that have the potential to impact freedom of navigation.”

Mr Pathinayake said domestic and foreign stakeholders were committed to working toward an updated code that left no unintended gaps or loopholes for exploitation.

“Many countries that rim the Indian Ocean – which include some of the most populous countries in the world – are heavily dependent on sea-borne connectivity for trade and commerce,” he said.

Fellow CoLP Executive Director Dr Claudio Bozzi said the countries in the region had increased purchasing power and per capita GDP, fuelled by the revival of maritime links driven by global trade centred on East Asia.

“The region’s fisheries account for 15 per cent of the world’s catch, and the ocean is traversed by some of the busiest sea trade and passenger routes in the world, is a popular source of tourism, and contains abundant natural resources,” Dr Bozzi said.

“The Indian Ocean region has significant deposits of primary raw materials that are vital to the world economy – such as bauxite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, natural gas, nickel, oil, phosphates, titanium, tungsten, uranium, and zinc.

“As more state and non-state actors seek to get involved, there is a growing need to re-evaluate their legal rights to access and exploit these resources.

“It’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure those who wish to live by the ocean, want to trade across it or access its natural resources can continue to do so now and into the future.”

Deakin Law School’s Professor Samantha Hepburn, whose area of expertise is property, mining, energy and environmental law, said shipping emissions and their subsequent climate impact was also a key issue.  

“Despite being a major contributor to climate change, the powerful shipping industry has successfully lobbied to be excluded from obligations to reduce emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement,” Professor Hepburn said.

“To date, there are no emission reduction targets in maritime shipping under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and no obligations under the UN Law of the Sea treaty imposed on states or shipping corporations to reduce maritime emissions. 

“However, the global shipping sector did recently broker an agreement with the International Maritime Organization and its 170 member states for a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“This is a profoundly important development given there has been exponential growth in global shipping and trade over the past decade, and this increase means prompt action is required to reduce vessel-sourced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Originally published on Deakin Media.